Andrew Warshaw: Uncomfortable games in high places

Amidst all the rhetoric in recent days from FIFA and UEFA over the separate issues of racism and World Cup slots, the bigger picture seems to be one of canny manoeuvrings being played out in front of the world’s media by Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini in order to gain the moral high ground.

“Anything you can do, I can do better” appears to be the basis of the rather silly (at best uncomfortable) mind games being employed by the respective presidents of football’s two main governing bodies.

Why do you think that is? The answer, surely, is that both are trying to influence public opinion in the build-up to what could well be a two-horse race for the top job in world football in 2015.

Blatter may not have mentioned his counterpart and one-time advisor by name during his speech at the English Football Association’s 150th anniversary gala dinner last weekend. But his remark that it was a ‘nonsense’ for racism to be dealt with either by fines or matches played behind closed doors was a clear dig at UEFA’s rules. And, by association therefore, Platini’s rules.

Blatter continued the same theme at a press conference in London 24 hours later when he called on football’s disciplinary authorities to impose suspensions or deduct points. The inference was all too obvious: that UEFA’s own crackdown on racism, announced last May, did not go far enough.

This time, surprisingly and without being prompted, Blatter almost admitted as much, revealing to reporters he had chatted “informally” to Platini about sanctions when they sat on the same table at London’s plush Connaught Rooms during the FA gala. According to Blatter, Platini’s take on the matter was that the FIFA President’s ideas were simply “too harsh.”

Then there is the tit-for-tat debate over future World Cup slots. Blatter may or may not have a point when he says it is unfair that the European and South American confederations lay claim to the majority of the World Cup berths when they account for significantly fewer member associations than Africa and Asia combined.

Maybe he was right to raise the disparity and remark that such a “flawed state of affairs must be rectified” but only the most naive observer could conclude that such comments have nothing to do with currying favour among the majority of FIFA members.

Platini’s response, cleverly worded so as not to get the backs up of Africa and Asia, was to suggest that in order to bring about a fairer and more equitable distribution, why not increase the finals from 32 to 40 teams? Ouch. That moral high ground issue again. FIFA’s response? To downplay the very concept of enlargement, just as they did when Platini announced his expanded Euro 2020.

Pot-stirring (I could use another less complimentary word that also ends in –stirring) is all part and parcel of the process of presidential elections, especially when it comes to football’s corridors of power. We have come to expect it.

For his part, Blatter is a past master at charming the pants off his audience, depending where in the world he finds himself. He may at times appear disingenuous but he is keenly perceptive to the ills of the game and often highly engaging.

Platini, who says he won’t make up his mind whether to run for FIFA president until after next year’s World Cup, couldn’t be more different: equally engaging in his own way with a dry wit and charmingly mischievous but an expert in suiting his own ends.

Both men have their own agendas, and both are perfectly at liberty to test public reaction before deciding whether to go for the biggest job in the sport. But the indirect finger-pointing – returning volley with counter-volley – does credit to neither party. An exercise in political tennis but one that is so unsubtle and already in danger of becoming worn.

And that’s before a full game has even been completed, let alone game, set and match.

Andrew Warshaw is chief correspondent of Insideworldfootball. Contact him at moc.l1713607202labto1713607202ofdlr1713607202owedi1713607202sni@w1713607202ahsra1713607202w.wer1713607202dna1713607202